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25 Most Innovative Organizations: Alberta Ballet

“Pop ballets” are making the 54-year old Alberta Ballet relevant in a post-Balanchine world

Nov 1, 2012

by Alberta Venture Staff

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Senior executive: Martin Bragg
Date founded: 1958
Headquartered: Calgary

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Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître’s contemporary collaborations have pushed the limits for the Alberta Ballet and its audiencePhoto Alberta Ballet

Every year or so, the New York Times will run a feature that inevitably finds its way onto the desk of Martin Bragg, the executive director of the Alberta Ballet. It discusses the future of ballet, and whether it has one as a commercially viable art form. That’s not something that Bragg has to worry about, though. Thanks to what he calls “portrait ballets” and what critics might call “pop ballets,” the Alberta Ballet has found a way to make itself relevant – and influential – in a world where that’s not usually the case.

More importantly, he and artistic director Jean Grand-Maître have created ballets featuring the music of artists like Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang to make their organization relevant. “All of a sudden, our theatres are full – and full of people that aren’t just from the retired segment of our population,” he says. “These portrait ballets are an entry point for a huge number of audience members, and they turn around and come back.”

As a result of its recent success, the Alberta Ballet has grown to become the second largest ballet by budget size in Canada, behind only the National Ballet of Canada. And while some have criticized its decision to introduce an element of popular culture to a classical art form, Bragg is unapologetic. “Traditionally, you don’t want to do something that’s too commercial, but I think one of the things that makes this organization different is that we say bollocks to that,” he says. “At the end of the day, producing art to an empty theatre is not really what we’re about. Producing art to full houses and then taking those houses and moving across Canada and around the world, that’s what we’re about.”

They plan on continuing to challenge conventional notions of what a ballet can, and should, be. While he’s not able to announce it just yet, Bragg says that the Alberta Ballet is working on a new collaboration that he thinks will set a new standard for his industry. “Forget theatres,” he says. “We’re going to play it in arenas.”

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